Friday, January 20, 2012

Feedback from readers

“Always write as if it matters, because if you do, it will.”

These were the parting words of wisdom I received from my Master’s project advisor at Columbia University. I try to stick to this advice, sometimes a little too seriously.

I recently exchanged emails with a friend of my father, who disagreed with a few things I wrote on my blog about Imran Khan. I rarely vent out my anger in public but this is one of those subjects that I get worked up about: the deafening silence of religious scholars in Pakistan when it comes to solving the real political, social & economic problems of the country.

My father’s friend wrote a very polite email to me, that I’m reproducing a slightly shortened version of here:

In your blog titled Shine on Imran Khan: Hats off to PTI supporters you wrote: In a dramatic show of force, Imran Khan gathered more than 100,000 supporters at a rally in Lahore.  His show of strength was meant to send a clear message: “Those in Raiwind and Islamabad should know that it is not a flood that is coming, but a tsunami.” You go on to write: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this rally wasn’t Imran Khan but his supporters. Street power in Pakistan has been monopolized by chest thumping, bearded young men in the recent past. Imran Khan has managed to show a different side to Pakistan.

The two lines when put together seem to give the impression that "those in Raiwind" have something to do with "chest thumping, bearded yound men" on the streets. I am not sure how far you were thinking but on the outset it just looks like a factual mistake, maybe just a typo. Why? Because its common knowlegde that Raiwind is the markaz of Pakistani tableeghi jamat, and whereas you and I may not agree with everything about tableeghi jamat's methodology and beliefs, it remains a fact that they do not engage in politics, let alone do things like chest thumping on the streets. Perhaps you had some other place in mind when you wrote this article.

The other thing I beg to disagree with is more on a conceptual level. In your blogs, you seem to have mentioned music and dancing as if they are positive things witnessed in these latest political gatherings. If you go to the sources of Islamic knowledge (actually Shaykh Kamal's lectures available on his website provide a very good insight into these issues and Islam's take on them with proofs from Quran and Sunnah) you will find that for a Muslim such activities are not a means of earning Allah's pleasure. Making no assumptions about what's in Imran Khan's heart and whether he is going to turn out to be the saviour later on or not, if we look at our own view of things at this point in time then a question comes to mind. Do we believe that a Muslim individual or a Muslim nation can achieve success in the life of this world or the Akhirah by openly indulging in acts of Allah's disobedience. Agreed that socially things are pretty bad in our country and no one seems to be in sight who can fix all our problems, but how does that become an excuse for a Muslim to look away from His Creator and His expectations from us. In order to fix our state of affairs, does it not sound more sensible that we get the One Who is 'really' in Control, on our side, and seek His help in resolving our issues, or does it sound like a better choice to take matters in our own hands by displeasing Him through acts of His disobedience and then try to fix our problems by ourselves, without His Help?

I am sure you will agree with me that a believer's task is not to go after apparent results in this world, but to live a life of Allah's Obedience. As a shaykh I know puts it beautifully, for a momin, this life is the place of work (kaam ki jagah), grave is the place of rest (araam ki jagah) and the akhirah is the place of results and rewards (in'aam ki jagah), hence we don't get carried away by achieving results in this world. This implies that whenever the means adopted to achieve our goals interfere with the Deen we give them up and hold on to the Deen.

Its clearly spelled out in the Qur'an that "wa ma khalaqtul jinna wal insa illa li ya'bodoon", i.e. We did not create the Jinn and the human beings except to worship us. Obviously this does not mean that we have been created only to pray salat all the time as if that's the only form of worship, but rather that everything that we do in our lives must be done as a servant, 'Abd' of Allah, in a state of submission and oboodiah. Whether it be relationship within our homes or with people in our communities. Likewise our attempts to fix our country's problems must also be in line with the Shariah and Sunnah, not by putting them on the side and giving in to popular tastes or people's whims and desires.

In short what I am trying to say here dear brother Bilal is that we are all responsible for what we say and do. If Allah has put us in a position where people listen to us or read our writings, we must be very careful what we endorse and praise. Its a principle of our Deen that whoever calls to a good action gets the reward of the person who does that action and whoever calls to a bad action will be held responsible for the bad action that someone did as a result of his calling. With the same spirit, I decided to write this piece of naseehah to the son of a very pious and sincere colleague. I hope to be able to get more time to spend with you as I am sure there is even more good to your personality than what displays in your excellent writings.

I hope you will take it all only as a well wisher's advice who considers himself even more in need of your naseehah as well.

Requesting duas from both father and son…

I was touched by uncle’s pure intentions to help guide me but at the same time I felt that his arguments were reflective of many ideas that are creating trouble in our society. My response to him was as follows (again shortened, wherever possible):

JazakAllah for writing to me with your advice and words of wisdom. As Muslims, we seek Allah's guidance to help us find the truth. 

An exchange of thoughts like this, even when we disagree with each other, is part of a process through which we strive to seek the truth. I'm grateful that you took the time and energy to give me such structured feedback.

Now, let me share my responses to some of your concerns.

With regards to the point about Rawind, I was referring to Nawaz Sharif’s center of operations in Rawind and not the Tableegi Jamaat. It’s common knowledge that the Tableegi Jamaat are not political and in the context of my blog post, I was referring to the tsunami about to hit the political forces in the country. My statement was quoting Imran Khan’s warning to Nawaz Sharif in Rawind and Zardari in Islamabad. Hope this clears up the point. However, thanks to your feedback, I’ll be more careful in the future so that my writing doesn’t create opportunities for this type of confusion.

With reference to your second point, I respectfully disagree with you at a conceptual level. In actuality, the way that you have phrased your questions I can either agree with you or be guilty of disobeying Allah. Therefore, it's important for me to highlight that I agree with you when you stress the importance of obeying Allah but I disagree with the way your questions have been positioned and I’d like to challenge some of the assumptions underlying your analysis.

Advocating a world where we abide strictly by the ‘Shariah’ is the right thing to do, especially from the safe distance of another country. However, this analysis ignores the context in which I was writing.

I'm writing from a city where countless men, women and children were shot dead in the last few months on the basis of their ethnicity. I’ve gone to sleep for days on end to the sound of gun fire in the background. For a leader like Imran Khan to get people to reject violence (esp in Karachi), and get them to substitute guns for music, even for a day, is worthy of appreciation in our context. Would it be better if a religious leader was able to unite these groups in a ‘Shariah’ complaint manner? Yes, but no such religious leadership is coming to the forefront and I’d argue that this is precisely because of the position advocated in your email:

“I am sure you will agree with me that a believer's task is not to go after apparent results in this world, but to live a life of Allah's Obedience. As a shaykh I know puts it beautifully, for a momin, this life is the place of work (kaam ki jagah), grave is the place of rest (araam ki jagah) and the akhirah is the place of results and rewards (in'aam ki jagah), hence we don't get carried away by achieving results in this world.”

I have a fundamental disagreement with this world view. If God-fearing, educated and moderate religious leaders give up their responsibility to society in the name of protecting their Akhirat, then we will see religious extremists monopolize public discourse on religion and alienate society from religion & from religious solutions to problems. This is exactly what is happening in Pakistani society right now.
Instead of shying away from Pakistan’s problems, religious leaders and people like you, who are God fearing and knowledgeable about the affairs of Deen & Dunya, need to step up and deliver constructive solutions to the problems we’re facing in Pakistan.
Instead, too many religiously minded people, me included, have focused for a long time on the imposition of ‘Shariah’ as a panacea to Pakistan’s problems, ignoring ground realities. Meanwhile, religion continues to be misused by extremists, causing violence, intolerance and fracturing our already divided society. For the sake of simplicity I’m not going to get into the debate between sects about whose ‘Shariah’ is the right ‘Shariah’ since everyone believes there is only ‘one correct’ version of the ‘Shariah’ and only their version can be correct.

As a personal choice, I’ve decided not to abdicate my religious duty to serve & improve society until 'Shariah' is introduced. I'm making a deliberate choice to engage with the political parties and landscape currently on offer in Pakistan rather than holding out for a utopian state of affairs where everything is Shariah compliant. This is especially true because the strongest religious force currently advocating shariah in Pakistan is the Taliban, who are doing it by holding a gun to our heads and I simply don't support that. Other religious leaders are simply quiet and I believe contributing to the confusion by staying quiet.

This unforgivable silence by religious leaders makes me really angry and I'm sorry if my anger came out very strongly in this email. I genuinely respect your insights and opinions. But I sincerely hope that religious leaders begin engaging with the current public discourse rather than thinking that they are above all this since they are dedicated only to saving their Akhirat. This is against the spirit of the type of life our Prophet lived.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on what I've shared above, with the possibility of publishing our conversation on my blog for the benefit of others.

P.S. That’s it for now. I look forward to uploading his response to my email when I receive it.